First off, congratulations on getting your release from Capitol Records. How did it feel when you got the official news?
It was kind of surreal, to be honest. In psychology, they teach you that it’s harder to accomplish the next thing in life if you haven’t successfully navigated one thing. It’s called steps. How do you go to the second grade if you flunked the first grade? I was like, “Wow, I finally achieved a step and I can move on from there.’ I think I had a lot of suppressed stress about what I was going to do if we couldn’t resolve this situation. I breathed a sigh of relief. I think I was waiting to exhale. It was surreal. I didn’t know how to feel. I know I was very thankful. I celebrated with my peoples and called my moms. It was a blessing. I don’t look at it as an all-bad experience. Unfortunately things happen in life and I learned a lot from it and I appreciate EMI for coming in and resolving it and just letting everybody move on. That’s cool.
Your release from the label has been a long time coming. How did you stay focused on making music while you were going through this situation?
I think, to be honest with you, I make a lot of music for me. I vent. People that know me know that usually I’m talking about the shit that I’m going through at exactly that time in my music. One of the reasons I never liked being at any label, and this is not talking about Capitol, but the things that I wanted to put out would take at least six months to come out. I was trying to portray particular emotions. The best thing about the internet and being in the position that I was in, I could put the music out on the internet and it was timely. If you wanted to get with it, you could get with it. If you didn’t want to, you didn’t have to.
I caught a lot of shit for Soul On Ice. I did that album a year and a half before it came out. I was supposed to get 6 mics in the Source on that. At the time that I did that album, I was thoroughly impressed and a lot of other people happened to be also. Ever since then, I’ve been able to do things in a timely manner. I don’t wait for other people to put it out. It may not be on MTV or your local radio station, but if you wanted to hear it, you could find it on the internet. Rip that shit if you want to. I just want to make sure that you hear it. That was my motivation. I’ve always tried to make the albums that I wanted to make. That was my motivation and it’s a blessing.
I just came from Atlanta. I just came off the airplane and a dude stopped me. He said he was from Houston and living in Atlanta and he really has to eat or die. He bumps that shit. I look at that like it’s a blessing. That’s the motivation to me. At least the niggas that want to get with it, whether it’s selling a million or not, are getting it. Hip-hop has turned into this thing where it has to sell a million copies to validate it. Of course I want to sell that much and make money, but that doesn’t make it good or bad. I’m just trying to give me to the people that appreciate me. I’m just trying to give them some shit from the vantage point that I’m at. Eat Or Die was a very frustrated record. Revenge of the Spit was a very much like a mixtape and it was geeky with the Star Wars theme. It was melancholy. I just keep doing me. I think that’s been more of a strength than anything.
You always talk about how your music is a time capsule of where you’re at in your present state-of-mind. What kind of music are you capable of making right now?
Well, I can make anything. Twista knows I can make a bounce record. Dre knows I can make some gangster shit. Jazze Pha knows I can make some bounce shit. Mos Def and Immortal Technique know I can go rap the entire Encyclopedia Britannica. They know I’m capable of anything and I am. Today I feel pretty happy. I feel like I have some shit to prove. When niggas mention their top 10 rappers, I conveniently get swept under the rug. I like some club shit and I always try to be pretty honest.
I would love to say this, because it struck me yesterday – I’ve always had this weird career. I was in a club recently, like two nights ago. There was a fan who told me he wanted me to get back to spitting and that sometimes I get jiggy. I’m like, ‘My dude, did you listen to Soul On Ice? I have a song called ‘Marinate’ with Battlekat before he got with Snoop.’ I ain’t never changed. The hip-hoppers want to keep you broke. I’ve never seen an artist held to the standards that I’ve been held to. Why do I have to be more like someone else? Why can’t I just be me and why can’t you just accept me for me? That’s been my career fight. The business people at my label couldn’t see that but there were external factors too from fans and friends. Why can’t you just let me be me? That’s all I wanted to be.
I had this epiphany yesterday. Mos Def had a “Ms. Fat Booty.” Common makes club records. What the fuck is up with this stratification? Let an artist be an artist. I don’t knock anybody’s music. Some artists are held to higher standards. Not every song can be about taking over the government. I didn’t do that in the first place. I want to ask that question to anybody that considers themselves a fan of me. Why do you try to hold me to certain standards? First you complain about my beats not being hot then you complain that my beats are too hot. In early ’99, niggas were giving me shit for working with Dre, like I wasn’t keeping it hip-hop. I really feel like I helped pave the way for Pharoahe and Mos to be able to do a song with Nate Dogg. People were giving me shit for being who I am.
I’ve done songs with Twista before he blew up. In the same sense, I’ll do a song with Kanye. I just want to make music and now I don’t have to be politically-correct. I can just be who I am. I don’t have the obligation to a company today where there are some things I can’t say. I just want to do me. I think I have some things to offer hip-hop and I think my peers know what I can do. I think they genuinely accept my talent. I think they genuinely accept my gangster and being the nigga that I am. I’m a cool nigga and I’m about what I’m about. I’m just going to do it all. The next thing that I’m probably going to do is a mixtape with Dow Jones. He’s in Atlanta now so it may be some down South shit. I could rap over anything. I could rap accapella. I could rap over ballet music. I don’t give a fuck! (laughs)
When I spoke to Joe Budden recently, he said when he was going through problems with Def Jam, he held off on releasing music because he didn’t want to give Def Jam a reason to keep him. Was that ever an issue with you?
That’s a really good question. To be honest with you, after my first album, I got a lot of interviews where people asked me if I felt bad I didn’t sell a million records because I didn’t have good beats. It was like a backhanded compliment. Even if I give 60%, I’m still like Jordan on the mic. I have ideas that I’ve been sitting on since 1997. When the time is right, I’ll do it. They say that timing is everything. I’m not trying to shit on anybody, but I wrote “Nature of the Threat.” I did research for that. Eminem gets critical acclaim for “Stan” because he sold 10 million records. I’m not taking anything from Em. Em is incredibly talented and I’m a fan and a peer, but some niggas will win and people are groupied-out. Conveniently I’ve been swept under the rug and I did fall back. I can do this with my hands tied behind my back. Why should I give 100% when I’m not fully appreciated? My gimmick was that I was being me. I didn’t want to be a backpacker or a philosopher. I just wanted to be me. How about if I’m smart and I do some stupid shit at times? And I have a lot of relationships with very successful executives and rappers and producers today and I definitely don’t want to use all my favors up. I think Dr. Dre has done enormous favors for me. I came out of prison and he tried to do another favor for me. You kind of just get frustrated and say, “You know what? Let me just chill, man.”
I guess the key phrase in this sentence is that the A-list artist, the marquee artist on the label, he can obviously do no wrong because he’s making all the money for the label. The C-list artist is cool because he knows he’s about to get dropped from the label. The B-list artist is the artist who’s in trouble. The label doesn’t want to drop him because he’s kind of cool and someone else might snatch him up and he can make money with another label.
It’s like McDonald’s. They sell you cheeseburgers for $1.39. The ones they don’t sell, they hose them down with water on some hater shit so homeless people can’t eat it. If they think you have some potential, they don’t want you going somewhere else and winning. Fuck that. I’m not talking about any label in particular, but they don’t want you going somewhere else. Hell no! (laughs) So it’s better to be A-list and marquee or the C-list artist that they drop. That worked very well for Ne-Yo, Keyshia Coles, Alicia Keys and countless rappers that got dropped and then another label saw their potential.
Do you feel it can be a pride issue with labels too and they’d rather keep you and do nothing instead of seeing you succeed elsewhere?
Well, I can’t say anything about Capitol, period. Legally I can’t. What I can say about labels is that it’s a business like anything else. It’s like McDonald’s, if they haven’t sold cheeseburgers, they water them down. You see a whole bunch of Quarter Pounders with cheese and fries that are watered down so the homeless person can’t eat it. If you don’t buy it, they don’t want anyone else to have it. The labels do not want to lose. It’s like the movie Blood Diamond. That diamond was so big and they’re going to put it away so they can control the price of diamonds. Unfortunately in any industry, you’re just a number. You sign and your project number is blah-blah-blab-blah-blah. People get so caught up in being a businessman that they forget other things. And that’s in probably every industry, but my experience has been more so in the music business so I can talk about it from that vantage point. I don’t know what Capitol was thinking and I couldn’t speak on it if I wanted to, anyway.
Since your release, have you been approached by other labels?
I’ve been approached by a lot of great people. Producers and executives are reaching out and supporting and people are genuinely happy to see me happy. I’m looking to spread my wings. We’ll see what happens. I’m not at a point where I’m overly concerned about it. I just got out of a divorce so I’m not trying to get married anytime soon unless a chick has a whole bunch of money, then we’ll see. I’m thankful to have had the experience that I’ve had. I got to travel the world as a young-ass kid. I went to Germany six times and Sweden and Japan. I’ve been blessed. My job is to work really hard, make the music that I want to make and hopefully that music gets the reaction from the streets and the radio. If some company sees my vision and is willing to work with me on that, then hey, let’s do it. But if not, I think I’ll be all right. I’m not all that worried about having a situation. I’ve had opportunities to go different places in the last four or five years and for whatever reasons, I couldn’t do that. We’ll see what happens. No matter what happens, I’m going to do me.
Are you more likely to go for an independent deal after what you’ve been through?
I have no idea.
What are the odds of you working with Dr. Dre today?
(laughs) I think they’re pretty good! In the time that I’ve known Doc, and it’s been a long fucking time…It’s been nine years. I’ve learned to really respect him for the genius that he is. He’s a very smart dude and he’s definitely kept it 100 with me. I appreciate him and fuck, I talked to his brother like a week ago. It’s love. I’ve always been a Dr. Dre fan and I’m always going to cheer for Doc. Whatever capacity he wants to work with me…I’m always in the studio fucking with Bishop. Whatever. I’m kind of like the hard-headed stepchild of the West Coast. I want to blaze my own path but he throws me the rock every once in a while to do my thing. I want to make Dr. Dre proud. He’s always told me things behind closed doors about what he thinks about me and my talent and I want to prove him right.
Working with Doc, to me, I think it’s a necessity. It’s going to happen. I have a Dr. Dre record. But it’s even in the capacity of more so working together. If I can help the Detox album in any capacity, I would love to do that. I think it’s going to happen anyway. I’m on Cloud 9 and I’m just floating and working. I have so much work to do. I have some hot shit that I have to do to impress myself. I’ve already written some shit that I think is fire. Shout out to Khao, who’s down with Grand Hustle. He sent me some fire shit. Khao shot me some stupid beats. Jazze Pha and Primo are supposed to be sending me some shit. Niggas have just been reaching out of the woodwork. Bun-B, David Banner and Ne-Yo are reaching out. Most of my niggas are winning. Niggas are happy for me, legitimately. I got a Ne-Yo record. I got a David Banner record. I’m chilling! I got a Dre record. I’m chilling. If they want to cut a check, whatever. I got some new shit. I just got free a week ago. I’m like, ‘I got some good shit here, but let me go and make some more good shit.’
What did you think of the feedback off your new song “TRANS.FORMER”, which samples the theme music from the cartoon version of The Transformers?
I didn’t check the feedback. All I know is that people on my MySpace page said it’s crazy.
Is feedback not really a concern for you?
You know what? Whether I get good feedback or negative feedback, it doesn’t really mater. I have no regrets for the records that I make because I own my own soul. If I make it and it came out of my own soul, do I have to give a fuck? It’s like you telling me my son is ugly. I might beat your ass for telling me that, but you might have a point. My son might be ugly. But this is my creation that came out of my heart, so I don’t really give a fuck.
People find a way of criticizing you. I have the right to not listen. All I ever really saw was good things, but who knows? I don’t know what the critics said. It’s not going to hurt me.
It’s a hip-hop record. I made it for boys who grew up watching Transformers. I made it for boys and backpackers because I happen to be a boy and I happen to be a backpacker. (laughs) For boys that watched Transformers, if you watched the cartoon and you happen to be a boy and you’re a backpacker and you don’t like the record, then tell me about it. Anyone else’s opinion on that doesn’t matter. It’s like, how do you judge, if you are a country-western person, how do you judge Jay-Z’s album? You’re not going to like it. You can switch it the other way too. I don’t care what anybody said. I came from a position where I received a lot of praise off top and that became a lot of pressure. I was just being me and I started ignoring praise. I just wanted to do what I was doing and I didn’t want to feel obligated like I would let somebody down. Getting a negative opinion doesn’t hurt me either. If you can give me a logical reason, I can accept that, if you give me a good reason. If a dude that watched that cartoon and happens to be very underground, if they can explain to me why they don’t like about it, then I would be very open to listening to that opinion.
You featured Namebrand on “TRANS.FORMER” and mentioned him being down with your label Re-Up. Who is Namebrand?
Name is from Long Beach. We used to work at the same studio. For some reason, his sessions would be after mine. One day he played something and I was running kind of late. He played me something and he just has good timing. I like his delivery. He reminds me of Pharoahe and Jay. He’s a skater dude. He has a lot of energy and anything goes. The nigga can rhyme. I wanted to fuck with him. He’s a good dude and he’s obviously much different from me and much different than the stereotype of what rappers from Long Beach sound like. He doesn’t fit the mold but he is from Long Beach and he is a good dude and he raps dope.
You just released the Chinese Graffiti project, which features your artists, via iTunes. Will we see more Chinese Graffiti projects in the future?
We’ll do some more projects together in the future. Jay and Name are my artists. We have Livin’ Proof now too. And if you don’t know about Jay211, I would define him as a ghetto fratboy. He’s a white kid. I was like, ‘How can we do one song that complements all of us knowing that we all have extremely different personalities?’ We did the project and I’ll be hosting his mixtape. We’re just going to keep on doing what we do.
It has to be annoying when fans ask you for “Nature of the Threat Part 2”. Just how annoying is that?
Let me grow. I’m not the “Nature of the Threat” guy. I hate the people that say that type of shit. I always do my epic songs like “Interview with a Vampire.” It always ends up happening and I don’t plan on them happening. I have to get them out of my system and it’s a concept record. I’m not going to ever do another “Nature of the Threat.” I did that to get it out of my system and now it’s out of my system. And if you think that’s hip-hop, for me to keep doing the same fucking song, then that’s just as corny as me putting on a chicken suit and tap-dancing. They’re both corny. It’s two extremes of corniness. We all have to grow up and meet in the middle about what we love about hip-hop, whether it’s East Coast, West Coast, dirty South, from Toronto, world shit, reggaeton…Let’s grow up and appreciate each other and stop holding people to these stupid fucking extremes.
What the fuck? I said what the fuck I needed to say. It was a chronological history. What am I going to do next with that? When people say that to me, it’s insulting. It was done and why don’t you let me do these other things and listen to it with an open ear? You didn’t listen to my album already. Why don’t you listen to my song with Coolio on my first album, who was the biggest pop rapper of his day and I’m talking about fucking bitches? Who do you think you’re talking to when I’ve talked about that since day one? I just think that we all need to grow up, me included. But I have some insights. I haven’t really had the platform to really express my opinions and sometimes I wait to express them because I want a bigger mic and bigger speakers.
Are you going to be working with Alchemist in the future?
Of course. We buried the hatchet. Al’s my dude. I go to Al’s house and we hang out. He likes to gamble. Me, Xzibit and him were in Detroit with Hex and Black Milk and they want to go play the “roll the dice” shit, whatever that shit is called. I have friends in great places that are very talented and have achieved a lot of success. I’m getting innovative right now. I have too many opportunities. Everybody is lending a hand and I only have two. There are so many people that I want to work with. I’m just excited.
What’s your main focus at this point in your career?
I don’t have a main focus, bro. I just want to make good music, work hard, provide for my family, my moms and myself, my homies and of course my kids. I just want to give back to the people that supported me, to be honest.
What do you want to say to everybody?
Definitely check for the Chinese Graffiti project. I know it’s available on iTunes through Avatar Records. It’s a dope project. Khao gave me some fire and I’ll be doing two or three original songs over those. I will be a force to be reckoned with by the time that I’m done. Everybody respects the dude who gets the platinum plaque but nobody’s getting platinum plaques anymore. I’ll fuck around and I will at least get the gold plaque, but that won’t make me think I’m any worse or better than I already was. I thought Eminem was incredible before he sold a million records just like Ludacris, Jay-Z and Outkast. And they thought I was incredible. That’s not my validation (selling records), but the world needs it so I will play that game for the world. I’ll fuck around and sell 7 million and be on MTV and all these corny people that were talking shit about me will now be on my dick because that is the game.
And HipHopGame has always looked out. I appreciate the love and support.